Kick. Kick. Kick. Pass. Kick. Run a bit. Pass. Kick. Miss the net.
This is my life now. Watching footballers run and pass and kick and do almost nothing. This is what footsie fans never tell you. They never let you know how boring the game is, how little happens. It's like waiting for a bus. A bus with no doors so you can't get in. A bus that takes forever to come and once it does it stops beside you for 30 seconds and then drives away. Leaving you to wait. Again. Forever.
But it must mean something, right? All my life, people have been outraged and sickened by my total lack of interest in footsie and become almost threatening in their keen encouragement to get me involved in it. Now that I'm finally interested, it's become a total closed shop. No one will tell me the rules. No one will tell me why they love footsie. No one will talk about it. Am I too late? Is there a cut-off age for being into footsie? Should I have supported Engerland in the 90's? Should I have played for my school team? Should I have twirled a football rattle in the womb? Look, I'm here now. Please let me into your rubbish, boring club.
Then I had an idea...
If I'm going to learn about football then I need to go to a pub on match day. There'll be some guys there. I can say "Hi!", they'll welcome me to their table and we can just chillax and rap about the game. These chaps will know. They'll see a fellow gent and they'll point out the whys and whats of footsie over a delicious flagon of the barkeep's finest ale. OR TEN! HA HA HA HA HA HA HA! Seriously, though. It's going to be great.
On Saturday, I walked into the Traveller's Rest pub in the outskirts of Stoke and I immediately shat every pair of pants I've ever owned. It was full... The bar was full. Not full of chaps or guys. There wasn't a gent to be seen. This place was full to the rafters with men. Real men. Huge men. Men with big fisty hands that practically hid their pint of Olde You're Fucking Dead brown ale. Men that wore t-shirts in winter because the huge amount of tattoos they had was coat enough for them, lad. Men that screamed at the TV and whoever was on screen heard and sorted themselves the fuck out. Men who have never once taken their boots off. Men who have only eaten food in pie form.
Men. Real men.
I have genuinely never been more scared in my life. There was only one seat left in the pub, near a huge group of huger men so I put my satchel down, took out my journal and sat down. It was then that I immediately noticed they weren't killing me.
So far, so good. Liverpool were passing and kicking and doing fuck all else with Everton, and me and The League of Giants sat and watched. Ten minutes later, a deep ominous voice said "It's bollocks, isn't it?".
The voice came from behind me and, although I couldn't see the man, I knew he was talking to me. And he was right. It is bollocks. I shouldn't be here. I'm a third of the size of any other man in this pub. I'm watching a game that I can't understand. Football. THEIR football. What the hell was I thinking, coming into their headquarters and watching their football? It's bollocks, isn't it?
I turned round and pretended not to hear him. "Sorry, mate?", I said.
"It's a derby match", he said. "Well, it's supposed to be. They're not even trying".
Right. This very large man has spoken to me and the thing he's said makes no sense but I can't let him know that I don't understand and I am frightened otherwise he will punch my heart out and kick seven shades of grey out of my ghost. I gulped and said that Liverpool didn't seem into it on Wednesday either. They played Bolton and it wasn't much of a match but at least they won.
"Yeah", he said.
FUCKING HELL. Reader, you must completely understand one thing: I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT I MEANT. How the hell would I know if Liverpool were playing well or not? I know they won but to me that was just a coincidence. Who cares though? I've got away with it. A real man talked to me about football and I talked back. I finally have pubes.
He asked if I was a Liverpool fan and, GET READY FOR THIS, I said "No. Don't get upset, just pity me, I support Charlton". He laughed and said someone had to. BRILLIANT! I did the footsie joke of being embarrassed about my team and he did the other footsie joke about someone having to support them. I've only met him and already we've done every football joke ever. This is going great. He even introduced me to the rest of his friends. Well, he pointed at them and grunted and they grunted at me. I asked them who they supported and they all said City, which could mean anything, quite frankly. They may as well have said Club. But, that's not important. What's important is that I'm in a terrifying bar with terrifying men and we're getting on. Drinking beer. Watching footsie. Being men. It was great. I even told them that I knew nothing about football and was only watching because of Comic Relief.
Luckily, someone helped the atmosphere by scratching a record player needle across an L.P. just as all the large men turned to stare at me. A huge and well-funded exhibition of swearing opened in front of me as I tried to explain to my new buddies that I was really trying to like football and, you know, if they could maybe hold the "FUUUUUUUUUCK OFF"'s for just a minny-mo then maybe they could help me out. No one else wanted to. Maybe they would be the ones to tell me all I need to know? More shouting happened and I said "Like, for instance, I don't know what a derby match is..."
"Derby Matches?", said one chap. "Derby fucking matches are the fucking best. The fucking best, mate. More fights than at any other match".
Yep. I was back to being scared. They mocked loudly and violently for a while longer until one of my new gang saw my copy of the footsie fanzine When Saturday Comes. "Is this where you're learning the rules from?", he said before taking it away from me. I was now too uncomfortable to say anything else.
None of them could understand at all how someone could get to 46 and not know how to play football. They didn't know how you couldn't love football. How was football not the most important thing in my life, you twat? I needed to leave. This was uncomfortable... way too uncomfortable... And I needed to go. Then the man with my magazine, flicked through the pages, pointed to a photo and said "Oh. I like him."
It was a photo of Josh Widdecombe. He had written an article in the magazine.
"He's in The Last Leg. Funny bastard", the man said and his co-henchmen agreed.
"I know him", I said.
It took 5 minutes of me convincing them and 5 minutes of them repeatedly saying "FUUUUUUUUCK OFF" but I was back in the gang. Good old Josh.
We had beer and watched the rest of the first half and that's when the scariest thing happened. It was one thing to be sitting with these men watching football but what are they going to be like when football isn't on? Are they going to shout until the footsie come back on? Will the fight? Start throwing chairs around? Set fire to the pub? Force me to get a tattoo? Force me to support City? Force me to be dead?
A beauty product advert featuring Reece Witherspoon came on TV and we spent the next 15 minutes talking about Legally Blonde. I never saw that coming.
As the second half began, I decided to sneak off. I think I'd done well. I'd watched 45 whole minutes of footsie with a pack of bears who didn't eat me so why take any more chances. Just as I got up, one man grabbed me and I got my first bit of advice on the game of football. His scary eyes looked into mine and he said, "Be careful, mate. If you get into this game... It will ruin your life".
And with that, I was gone. They didn't kill me but they didn't really explain anything about football to me either, apart from how weekly disappointment will depress you (like I don't know that), so I left them to shout at the TV without me. Also, I wouldn't belong to any massive group of scary bastards that would have me as a member.
The thing is, I really need to learn a bit more about footsie before tonight because I'm going to my very first ever live match. Luckily, I'm going with my friend's son who has promised to fully explain football to me. That's right, I'm being taught by a child. Oh, and I don't know what your first match was. City vs United? Rovers vs Wanderers? Well, this is my first one...
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